How To Manage City Assets During A Water Emergency

May 8, 2023

In times of crisis, being able to continue operations and  manage working infrastructure is vital. This is especially true during a water emergency, where the availability of clean drinking water is a major concern for local governments and citizens alike. The purpose of this article is to provide information about how to manage city assets during a water emergency, specifically focusing on creating an effective response plan, and establishing an effective communication system. With the help of these strategies and tips, cities can be better prepared to handle water emergencies and optimize output with limited resources even during emergencies.

  1. Develop a Response Plan

In its early stages, developing a response plan is similar to the activities that encompass the formulation of a risk mitigation framework for a business. To create a response plan that is specific to the city’s needs or the water business’ activity, local officials and business leaders should consider simulating emergency scenarios, and then analyze case studies from recorded past events for pointers. Identifying the resources available also provides an inventory of equipment and spare parts that can quickly be installed or procured to continue operations. It’s also important to identify the key personnel who will be responsible for leading the response effort and who the leaders that can make high-priority decisions will be. Once these key personnel have been identified, the group must work together to develop a detailed plan per the simulated scenarios earlier detailed in the tabletop exercise and drills that will present options that lead to positive outcomes.

Establish Decision-Making Responsibility

The first step in the creation of a response plan is to identify who will be responsible for making decisions during an emergency. This could be elected officials, department heads, or members of a local emergency management team. It’s important to ensure that decision-making authority is clear so that there are no misunderstandings or delays in responding to the situation. Delegation works best here at this juncture. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that decision-makers have all the details of the emergency and are furnished with the necessary information for high-priority decisions regarding the management of resources and other operations like procurement. These must be done in a timely manner.  Emergencies relating to water utility may need central systems like databases or dashboards that work with sensors that pool data from infrastructure located in different locations. Therefore, team leads may need to be identified at these sites and report to a manager or coordinator. 

Identify Potential Scenarios

Once decision-making responsibility has been established, it’s important to identify potential scenarios that could arise during a water emergency by simulating fake emergencies and using checklists to signify completion or otherwise. The emergencies would closely resemble real-life ones with varying levels of intensity to simulate how timelines would be met. The team would have to deliver results on action plans for each step of the response plan under the instruction of the coordinator or team leads. The emergencies may pertain to external and uncontrollable forces versus internal but totally controllable forces. Natural disasters such as a flood or a hurricane can be simulated, but understandably to a limited extent. Others like equipment failure, or a contamination incident can be simulated and real life performance indicators therein can be measured against the simulated activities of the test. Generally, for each scenario, it’s important to consider what resources will be needed and how best to respond based on the specific circumstances (for example, how to evacuate special needs individuals, or where shelters will be strategically located for easier supply of resources). Additionally, it’s important to think about how decisions will be made, especially under pressure. In each scenario, team leads may be measured against the achievement of steps contained in the response plan and the involvement of each team member.

Create Detailed Plans

Once a disaster or emergency has been identified with features and scenarios, using insights from the simulation, comprehensive playbooks can then be formulated. These playbooks should include information about who will be responsible for making decisions (coordinators and team members), what resources will be needed (batteries or generators for power, dedicated phone lines to contact customers, etc.), and from where to best set up a war room or command station  for  the specific emergency. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that call trees are readily available, and all of the key personnel involved in the response effort are familiar with their roles in the plans so that they are fully prepared.

Review and Update Plans Regularly

Finally, it’s important to review and update response plans regularly as situations can change over time. Emergencies may occur at any time with a range of varying consequences to business operations. It’s important to make sure that all of the stakeholders in a response plan  are made aware of the changes via a central reporting system, emails, or for example, a simple dashboard that all employees in the lunch room can see. The resources that would complete the update must be procured and stored. Also, documentation and manuals for the operation of these new resources must be disseminated via training to the workforce. 

  1. Ensure Adequate Water Supply

Ensuring  adequate water supply during and after an emergency is essential for maintaining public health and safety. To do this, local officials (utility principals and community leaders) must identify sources of clean drinking water that are strategically located to the populace and ensure that these sources are accessible during an emergency. This means that it is important for cities to develop strategies for conserving or storing a portion of existing water supply and fund alternative sources of supply if there is a scarcity. These steps will ensure the resiliency of cities and will further ensure that citizens have access to safe drinking water during an emergency situation.

Identify Sources of Clean Drinking Water

The first step in ensuring an adequate water supply before an emergency situation occurs is to identify sources of clean drinking water available in the area. This could be public wells or other municipal sources of supply as well as private sources such as companies that produce bottled water for sale or rainwater catchment systems that have storage equipment (underground tanks, etc.) ready. It’s important for cities to make sure that communication lines to the owners of these sources are available during an emergency by creating protocols for immediate alerts to be sent to stakeholders. Distribution points may also be established to enable safe and easy delivery or collection of water during an emergency. Issues like contamination, proximity to and from distribution centers, and security are components that require dialogue before an emergency actually occurs. 

Develop Strategies for Conservation

Following the strategies for identifying sources of clean drinking water, cities must also develop other strategies for conserving existing supplies and finding more alternative sources for storage if necessary.  Incentives for customers or consumers to reduce consumption can be made attractive through discounts on water bills and contributions towards other city-offered services like waste disposal or recycling activities. Cities may consider best practices for desalination or accessing groundwater reserves with green technology. 

Establish Monitoring Systems

Finally, cities should establish monitoring systems to ensure that existing supplies are not contaminated or depleted too quickly during times of crisis. They may regularly test sources of supply as well as legally monitor private sources and catchment systems. Partnerships with private companies and the opening of communication lines with these companies for a comprehensive and effective response to an emergency would be the ideal situation. By implementing the use of dashboards, smart meters, software, and smart appliances for use as monitoring system infrastructure, cities can thoroughly ensure their citizens have access to safe drinking water during times of crisis.

Establish Effective Communication Systems

Establishing an effective communication system, as earlier mentioned, is vital to the management of city assets during a water emergency. To achieve this, cities must create alert systems to inform citizens about potential risks and the actions that they must take to ensure they are safe. These channels of communication can be used to also give categorical updates on any changes to the situation, possibility of evacuation, and the location of shelters and resources. Furthermore, cities should consider establishing forums for collecting feedback from citizens so they can understand how best to deliver based on what has been learnt during and after a loss event or emergency. Access to accurate information and the safeguarding of this information through cryptography or other means after a crisis is key. Some customers or citizens may want to remain anonymous based on the criticality or scrutiny of the service that they have received and reported on during the panic that ensues during an emergency. Surveys are also very effective.

  1. Conclusion

In conclusion, managing city assets during a water emergency requires careful planning and preparation beforehand and even after the event in order to minimize its impacts on local communities. This includes developing an effective response plan with clear decision-making responsibilities, identifying potential scenarios, creating detailed plans, reviewing and updating plans regularly. Also, ensuring adequate water supply by identifying sources of clean drinking water through testing for contaminants, and developing strategies for conservation are activities by water utilities that should be done both before and after an emergency.  Monitoring remote systems via sensors and dashboards (SCADA) and its use in maintaining an effective communication system to inform citizens about risks and updates to their water supply are important in minimizing the impacts of an emergency. The use of all these can contribute to effective analysis and the type of remedial action to take after an emergency or loss event.

Lastly, by law, there is a mandate for the utility operating in a particular city or region to align their activities with the local occupational health and safety regulations in order to avoid fines and dents to reputation. These guidelines will often contain an emergency response plan.